Judd Apatow is the Starbucks of American Comedy

schumer lebronSo “Trainwreck.” It’s a fun movie. Lots of laughs. Amy Schumer is a joy to watch, as is (surprisingly) LeBron James. Will LeBron turn out to be Judd Apatow’s greatest contribution to American cinema? Probably not but you never know. The guy’s got game.

But “Trainwreck,” the dressed-down romantic comedy directed by modern comedy hero Judd Apatow and starring the aforementioned plus SNL vet Bill Hader among other fun/good actors, is quite a bit short of being really good, let alone great or even worth talking about once you’re back in the parking lot.

It’s too ordinary. Look beyond (Schumer’s) sharp dialogue and well-timed jokes and what you’ve got is upscale entertainment product. A step-by-step re-creation of standard rom-com beats and characters, right up until the dread sequences of learning and hugging that bring the whole thing to a sodden end.

Five points to consider:

1. Apatow is one of the least adventurous directors, ever. As opposed to Edgar Wright (“The World’s End,” “Shaun of the Dead” and etc., check out the brilliant/hilarious ‘Every Frame a Painting” episode about his work linked below ), even Apatow’s funniest scenes are visually flat — mostly characters gathered in groups of two or four having witty conversations. Hardly anything, or anyone, moves. . To the point where “Trainwreck” would work just as well as a radio show. Really.

2. Bill Hader, for all his talents, makes for a dull romantic lead. He’s good at being bemused, but in this role at least he radiates the romantic need/passion of my dog Ralph, who is currently sleeping near my desk. It’s irrelevant that Ralph farts a lot — apparently that’s expected from any dog with Boxer in him – but he’s much more fun, and less smelly, when he’s awake. Please wake up, Bill.

3. And I don’t think it’s all Hader’s fault. His superstar orthopedic surgeon character Aaron is barely written at all. He’s a loosely aggregated set of psychological prototypes whose central characteristic — he’s like the world’s greatest knee surgeon, so extremely skilled as to be the only suitable option for the world’s greatest, if shattered/torn athletes — is contradicted/trashed by the writers the moment the plot requires a mini-crisis. No surgeon in the world, let alone one whose profile is as high and his reputation as profound as Aaron’s, would EVER do the shit “Trainwreck” requires Aaron to pull. This is Amy’s first movie script but Apatow has been around the track a lot and he should know better. Instead, he did the e-z thing, and now American suffers. What about the children, Judd? Think of the children.

4. Stunt-casting: LeBron works magnificently, and it is sort of better that he’s playing himself. But WTF is the point of tossing in Chrissie Evert, Marv Albert, Matthew Broderick and the other self-portraying celebs? Does Aaron really ONLY know celebrities? Isn’t it lazy to lean on pre-existing punchlines (they’re famous! they’re making fun of themselves, sort of!) rather than write original characters with original personae/jokes/etc?

5. So Schumer’s delightfully louche character (sex-crazed, boozer, pothead, etc) can only find happiness when she renounces her indulgences and conforms to all the Traditional Values? Hmm. Okay. Well, that’s….ordinary. Moderation, as per the vast majority of people, isn’t an option? There is something fundamentally wrong about a sexually-empowered woman? Did you get that from the Texas Republican Party?

C’mon Judd, c’mon Amy. You’ve done so much better. You’ll do so much better. Just please try.

Here’s the (priceless) Edgar Wright video:

 

Lewis Lapham just published the worst essay ever written about comedy

But seriously, folks.

But seriously, folks.

The agate-eyed old man on the left is Mr. Lewis Lapham, former editor of Harper’s whose own writings have — as lovingly recounted in his author bio — earned comparisons to wordy mega-weights Mark Twain and Montaigne.

And yet his latest literary throw-down, the brutally titled America Needs Better Comedians, is a pedantic wind-fest that replaces actual knowledge of modern comedy/popular culture with a blizzard of French philosophers, a brief lesson in Elizabethan anatomical theory and a loving recollection of a prep school headmaster (“…a pious and confiding man, as grave as he was good.”) encountered in Connecticut in 1948.

When Groucho Marx’s name enters the text Lapham turns extra-turgid, reducing the anarchic performer’s comic subversions into that much more ivory-cloaked yammering: horseprof

With Groucho Marx I share the opinion that comedians “are a much rarer and far more valuable commodity than all the gold and precious stones in the world,” but the assaying of that commodity — of what does it consist in its coats of many colors, among them cocksure pink, shithouse brown, and dead-end black — is a question that I gladly leave to the French philosopher Henri Bergson, Twain’s contemporary who in 1900 took note of its primary components: “The comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human… Laughter has no greater foe than emotion… Its appeal is to the intelligence, pure and simple… Our laughter is always the laughter of a group.”

Well, then. But let’s get to the heart of the attack presented in the headline (America needs better…): Why is Lapham dismissing all of the era’s comic voices? What is the overarching failure of the current, and at times culture-influencing likes of J Stewart, S Colbert, L. CK, “South Park” and on and on?

Lapham has no idea. At least, he never mentions them. Whether this is a function of his contempt or simple ignorance is unclear. Or so it seems until he finally does devote part of a sentence to a quick blow-by of the pitiful state of the genre, denouncing the “freeze-dried sound bites” dispensed at its most crucially important venues. Which, to Lapham, include: “Gridiron dinners, Academy Award ceremonies, and ‘Saturday Night Live.’

Gridiron dinners? Network awards shows? Weekend Update? These are the 21st century’s most vital outlets for modern humor? And no mention of “The Daily Show” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “Louie” or the great sea of Internet podcasts, blogs, Bad Lip Reading/Funny or Die videos?

Um, no. Not even close. Not even a mile from being close. No matter, Lapham snatches up George Bernard Shaw for the capper: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.”

True dat. But as Shaw knew, and Lapham apparently doesn’t, a little knowledge of your actual subject is pretty important too.

Springsteen on Veterans’ Day: “The Wall”

vietnam-war-buddies
On this day, or any day, listen to this and think.

Thanks to Chris Phillips and Backstreets.com for posting this today.

Color Me Impressed: The Replacements rock, Amazon pays for itself, thanks.

mats merch

First thing we do when we finally show up/Is get shit-faced drunk and try to sober up…

But first: Social responsibility, corporate division:

So okay, Amazon dodges sales taxes, did no favors for old-fashioned bookstores (which we love) and add your own pet annoyance/moral offense here.

But when it comes to building itself an enormous corporate HQ in the midst of a big city that will soon have up to 30,000-plus workers living, working, supporting businesses and etc Jeff Bezos and Co do biz in a very appealing way. For instance:

1. They’re paying for a dedicated bike route to their HQ, and buying a new rail car for the city’s South Lake Union transit line.

2. They implore their workers to live within walking distance of the office (see also: enormous residential building spree in the formerly disused South Lake Union neighborhood on the edge of downtown)

3. When it came to leveraging their investment in the city with financial help from Seattle taxpayers (in the form of tax breaks, building cash and etc., the hugely-profitable Amazon asked Seattle taxpayers to pitch in how many 100’s of millions of dollars? Zero million. Zero dollars.

As the ‘mats say…Color Me Impressed. Here’s how it sounded last night in their first show in more than 22 years:

I’m in love with that song. And this one, too:

The Heavy Box – Mike Cooley on the duality of the American gun thing.

cooleyAnother guy dressed in quasi-military drag. Another blurry security photo of the shooter, stepping casually through the door, assault weapon in his fists. Thumbnail profiles of the victims; the hardworking father, the popular student. Turns out the shooter has a history of mental illness. And violence.

Mental illness, violence and easy access to automatic weapons and mammoth amounts of ammo.

Such is the duality of the American thing.

The best thing I’ve read on gun control recently, coming from the middle of American gun culture, can be found on the website for the great Southern band the  Drive-By Truckers.It’s written by guitarist/songwriter Mike Cooley, and says it all.

(I’m posting the entire piece here, which may not be cool in terms of copyright and ‘net etiquette, but it’s such a transcendent essay and hit me so hard I felt — imagined? — a kind of moral purpose to passing it around.)

There was this heavy box I carried around with me for years. I would pick it up, put it in the truck, haul it to the next place and that’s where it stayed until it was time to move again. It was full of small caliber handgun and rifle cartridges, and shotgun shells of various size and shot patterns. It wouldn’t be considered a stockpile by today’s standards, and I didn’t have any use for it then, but I inherited it and the guns that went with it from my father. So I would toss it into the pile with the rest of the baggage I wasn’t ready to part with and pretend I was moving on.

My Dad owned a store. Similar to a convenience store, but located in the rural community where we lived, so it still functioned like a traditional country store, complete with a set of regulars that stopped by almost every day to chat. And without cable tv (it’s still not available there), 24/7 news, and the internet still over 20 years away, country stores and good ole boys had a wireless bullshit delivery system nonetheless. And good old boys never talk long without talking about guns.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but every now and then my Dad would come home convinced something was about to happen with regard to guns and ammo that required “stocking up.” There were going to be limits on the number of boxes you could buy. The price was going to reach unaffordable levels. “They” were going to make it so that you couldn’t even buy guns any more or be able to use the ones you had. And this information was never reported in the news because “they” don’t want you to know it. That’s how that heavy assed box came to be, and would eventually come to me.

One night before I inherited all those bullets, I got shot at. They wouldn’t have done me any good since I was trespassing. I’m pretty sure firing shots at the owner of the property you’re trespassing on makes it worse. Anyway I was with a couple of friends and we were rolling this guys yard. His house was on a hill at the end of a long driveway with woods in between. We heard the door open and the lights came on and we ran through the woods toward the road. He fired 2 maybe 3 shots and I could hear the bullets going through the trees alongside us. I don’t know if he was actually trying to hit us,and I’m not even sure if he could see us, but he didn’t just fire in the air either. It had to be obvious we were running away even if it wasn’t obvious we were just kids pulling a prank.

On another evening I was home with my parents and some of my friends thought it would be funny to steal the hubcaps off my car. We heard a noise and my Dad could see someone moving around outside. He got his gun, threw open the door and yelled “I’ll blow your head off you son of a bitch”. One of my friends stood up from behind the car with his hands up saying “don’t shoot Mr Cooley it’s me”. My Dad was red and shaking all over from fear and embarrassment. He’d almost shot a kid pulling a prank.

The inability to defend ones home or even the thought of that level of helplessness brings to mind images that are frightening for anyone, and my father and the man who shot at me belonged to a class and generation of men that were especially motivated that very fear. Robbing a man of the ability to defend his home was the last degrading thing the world could do to him. A world that many of the men of my dad’s generation and class saw as having it in for them in the first place. And that was enough to make anything less than an armed response, a weak response.

I never told my Dad I got shot at pulling a prank, and the man who did it outlived him.

I got rid of that box of ammo. If I need to do some shooting, I can buy more. And there was never a time when I couldn’t.

— Cooley